COLUMBIA -- How easy was it for South Carolina on Tuesday?
Easy enough that the only suspense of the Gamecocks' 72-52 blitzing of Charleston Southern came with 7.3 seconds left and walk-on freshman Jo Jo Cadray on the free-throw line, trying for the first points of his young career.
With the Gamecocks "nursing" a 19-point lead, the 6-foot, 155-pounder clanged the first attempt but drained the second, incurring the largest response of the night from the 5,711 fans at Frank McGuire Arena.
Otherwise, it was far from garnet-and-black bliss. South Carolina (4-2) blistered the nets at a 65-percent clip in the first half and led by as much as 29, but coach Eddie Fogler found plenty to quibble about.
"I don't know what the hell I just watched," said Fogler, whose team committed 27 turnovers and handed out 16 assists.
Fogler took issue with the hero's welcome his team received after its recent Thanksgiving trip to the Puerto Rico Shootout. The Gamecocks beat Virginia 73-71, took No. 2 Michigan State to the wire before a 59-56 loss and were in striking distance before falling to No. 19 DePaul, 58-46.
"I'd calm down," Fogler said of his fans' exuberance. "Calm down, all you happy Gamecocks with a 1-2 team coming back from Puerto Rico. ... Don't get too excited out there."
South Carolina opened up a 17-point lead in the first 10 minutes and wasn't threatened thereafter. Sophomore point guard Aaron Lucas led the way with 15 points and was followed by freshman center Marius Petravicius, who chipped in 11 and pulled down four boards.
Lucas said the Gamecocks' showing was "flat."
"We weren't in sync," said Lucas, whose team plays host to Furman on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. "We started off with good energy and good intensity, but as the game went on we started getting real flat and lost."
South Carolina shed its recent history of slow starts -- it trailed the Cavaliers 28-15, the Spartans 12-3 and the Blue Demons 12-2 -- by hitting seven of its first 10 shots and taking an 18-6 lead when freshman Chuck Eidson connected on a 3-point play with 12:12.
Charleston Southern (1-3), whose only victory so far came at the expense of North Greenville, missed three of its first 22 attempts and finished with a 29-percent clip.
The game's highlight was provided by former South Aiken star Tony Kitchings. Petravicius, in a fruitless attempt to incur a foul in the lane, let the ball fly to no one in particular. Kitchings was wide open on the baseline, and he snared it and threw down a tomahawk jam that put the Gamecocks up 31-11 with 5:45 left in the first half.
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com.
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